Aris Silzars Display Technology Consulting


The Display Continuum

In Search of Something…

Have you ever wandered around a bookstore looking for something to spark your interest? Have you ever had to look for information on a topic that was unfamiliar to you and you didn’t know quite where to start? Or have you ever been looking for something but then got distracted by another item that turned out to be even more interesting? Or do you sometimes just like to look at the “new and different” because it can be an inspiration to you?

Just today I received a mini-catalog from a large industrial supply company. It’s a company that considers me a regular customer. At that moment, I really couldn’t think of anything I needed, but decided to browse through the catalog anyway while waiting for a pre-arranged telephone conference to begin. Well, guess what? I found several interesting items that up until then I didn’t realize I “needed”. I suppose to be precise, I still really don’t “need” them but they sure would be nice to have. By casually browsing through this catalog, I learned about some new machining capabilities. I added to my knowledge of what is available in the world of machine tools – an area where I don’t consider myself an expert.

The common thread in all of the above is that sometimes we don’t really know what we want. This could simply be because we are bored and/or spoiled by the many “toys” we already have, or it could be a more legitimate reason that we are undertaking a search for knowledge in an area relatively new to us.

To me this demonstrates that there is a benefit -- perhaps one difficult to quantify – of being exposed to new information that is outside our normal range of interests. It can be a stimulant for new ideas and a way to enhance the creative application of the knowledge base in our already established areas of expertise.

With all the recent emphasis on search engines, and in placing virtually all the world’s knowledge onto electronic data bases, should we be prepared to give up on printed material all together? Is there an imminent alternative that will replace my catalog browsing experience?
For all the great things that Google and other search engines have already done for us, I predict that there is still going to be a place for information in the well-known printed format. It seems to me that computer and communications technology have enhanced what we can do but have not yet proven adept at taking over all of our information gathering and presentation tasks. And I don’t see anything that is likely to change that in at least the next decade.

The market for electronic books turned out to be mostly a dud. Internet commerce has grown, but in a way that closely parallels traditional mail order shopping – with an on-line catalog that is typically harder to use, but perhaps more up to date. Ebay has opened up the entire world to those of us who are always searching for some specialized piece of scientific or test equipment. The various search engines allow me to find information on products, companies, and individuals from the convenience of my desk.
But what if I really don’t know what I want? How can I use my computer to find out about things that have not even occurred to me? That is where I would suggest we benefit from printed books, catalogs, and advertisements. That is also where we benefit from conventional stores, product exhibitions, and random real-life experiences. Why do most of us still attend technical conferences? The technical information presented can be purchases on CDs and in printed Proceedings. For me, the real reason for attending is in the personal contacts and the one-on-one discussions that lead me to insights behind and beyond the purely technical presentations. By interacting and participating, I hear ideas and interpretations of what is going on that otherwise would never come my way. These end up being the real stimulants that guide my future thinking.

As it turns out, it was one of these discussions that prompted this column. The comment was made that members of the “younger generation” no longer want to read technical information in the “old fashioned” printed format. Instead, they just use their computers to search for whatever they think they need to know. On the surface that seems like a very efficient process – except that it eliminates the creative stimulant that can come from learning about things that perhaps at that moment are not so important but later on could lead to a combination of ideas into something truly innovative. Are we reducing the creativity of this new generation of engineers by limiting their experiences to only the immediate tasks at hand?

Prior to graduate school, my own college education was at a liberal arts college with a strong emphasis on non-technical subjects. Therefore, even though I graduated with a BA degree in Physics, I was exposed to many subjects that at the time seemed unimportant to my future. But so much of what I then considered “useless” effort has proven to be exactly the opposite. There is more to learning and gaining life experiences than keeping oneself confined to the immediate needs of an engineering class or a narrow technical discipline.
Printed information will, of course, change over time in response to what is available through electronic media. And perhaps someday we will have displays that can immerse us into browsing environments that are even more effective than reading printed information or visiting a bookstore. But that will require displays that are nearly as large as all the walls of an entire room and have multi-Gigapixel capability. Perhaps it will also require realistic 3D capability. At the present time, these are challenges that we in the display industry are just beginning to think about. We are in our infancy in the development of such large and high information content displays – other than for the very few specialized applications with unlimited budgets. Realistic 3D is similarly many years away. Our current efforts at stereoscopic displays are not much better than those attempted over the past two centuries. Presenting two views of a scene with no consideration for how we really observe the environment around us can never result in anything other than a novelty effect that our visual system instantly identifies as a poor imitation of reality. To try to replace all, or even a majority, of printed material, will therefore guarantee that we in the display industry have our work cut out for us for many years to come.

If you would like to offer your thoughts about the future of books, magazines, the Sunday paper, or electronic environments, you may reach me directly through this site, by e-mail at, by telephone at 425-898-9117, or by fax at 425-898-1727.